First and foremost…this is NOT thinking out loud, so please don’t do it!!
Naturally I advocate being prepared for every occasion so that the opportunity to have to think on your feet is minimised.
You can do this by asking yourself (and answering) some content and occasion questions such as
1. Why am I talking to this group? (What is this about)
2. What are my three main points?
3. Which is the most supported already?
4. Which is the least supported?
5. Which is the most positive?
6. Do I want the audience to take some action?
1. Why am I talking to this group? (as in why is it you and not someone else)
2. Who will be in the audience?
3. How many will be in the audience?
By being aware of these, you can prepare some “answers” in a format that will enhance your authority of the topic. Remember the best ad libs are well rehearsed!
Think about what you are asking or telling your audience and what the questions/concerns might be. In all my years of coaching people I have found that we are much better at identifying problems or perceived problems than we give ourselves credit for. By planning your presentation with this research completed, there should be very few (if any) surprise questions – you will have identified them beforehand and have your answers ready.
You also need to take some physical steps – relax, breathe, listen. Don’t jump into the fray without doing all of these or you will fall back into thinking out loud mode.
Relaxing is the hardest – you will have one of two reactions. Either you will want to give an anwer immediately or you will freeze up and your mind will go blank. Both will increase your breathing rate which in turn will affect the strength and sound of your voice. So learn a method that stops this cycle before it starts. It might be as simple as taking a breath before you start to think about your answer, smiling or nodding to indicate you have heard the question or taking the classic thinker pose and putting a finger on your lips.
Make sure you understand what is being asked – clarify the question with one of your own or repeat it for confirmation.
Then answer just the question, no extra information, no embellishment, no fillers.
The next step is also difficult for most of us. Stop talking. Allow those listening time to assimilate your answer. Don’t try to fill the silence with more information which may weaken your response or confuse the listener. If there are further questions, start the process again.
As an extension of this topic, next week I am going to talk about being on a panel for a presentation or a panel discussion.